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School CP - March 1999


Inter Press Service English News Wire, 10 March 1999

Corporal punishment -- A labor of love

By Caitlin Davies

MAUN, Mar. 9 (AIA/GIN) -- Anti-social behavior among Botswana's normally mild mannered secondary school population has reached a new high with riots at three schools causing considerable damage. The surge in violence, mainly directed at teachers and school administrators, has left parents and schools heads baffled as to the causes.

Leboro Selerio, a regional education officer, recently arrived at his office to find a drunken secondary school pupil blocking his path. The boy had smashed the office window. He was arrested and taken to the police station.

In May, male students at a North West province secondary school were reported to be smashing windows and threatening fellow pupils. Their justification? Four students had been arrested for rape. They objected to the police being called in and wanted the matter handled within the school.

Parents of 46 boys were ordered to cover the costs, and several of the ring leaders were publicly thrashed.

Two months later 500 pupils at Masunga secondary school in the North East rioted over alleged sexual relations between teachers and pupils. Several boys were suspended.

The high court later ruled that four boys had not been given a hearing before being suspended and the decision to expel was deemed unfair and unlawful.

As yet the teachers' code of conduct does not specifically outlaw sexual relations with pupils.

This month nine secondary schools in the North West district introduced a set of student rules after consultation with pupils, teachers, boards of governors and parents. The codes of conduct reflect a new dialogue between students and school authorities and many refer to pupils as "stakeholders".

The belief is that pupils will be less likely to protest against rules they have helped to draft themselves.

"Some schools had no policy on behavior or punishment," explains Maun senior secondary head David Tregilges. "Teachers were doing it their own way, sometimes to excess and this wasn't helping the overall attitude from students".

The nine codes are also meant to protect students from abusive teachers, who have gone so far as to bricks [sic] and broomsticks on their young pupils.

Education officer Selerio admits he has heard many reports of unnecessary beatings. He gives the example of a teacher who walks into class, finds all his students have failed a math test and "gives them 10 good ones".

The Moeti community junior secondary school code states clearly that punishment should not be administered for academic reasons. However, the code also warns that students who "don't make an effort to do their best in academic work will be punished".

Selerio says a teacher has to be "considerate" when beating and that in some schools corporal punishment is not properly used.

He says that because often children now know their rights, an abusive teacher is more likely to end up in the police charge office.

However few if any teachers have ever been criminally charged. This includes one teacher who last year beat a primary pupil around the head for "making noise" and the pupil was admitted to hospital.

Selario says the abuse happens the other way round as well, with pupils now assaulting teachers.

Pupils appear hopeful about the new codes. "It's a positive development and it was written after much discussion," says Neo Keaketswe, head girl at Tsodilo junior secondary school. "Everyone must follow it because we don't want difficult people to manage in our schools, we want well disciplined students."

The Tsodilo code blames juvenile delinquency partly on the lack of entertainment for the youth and lists a variety of sports and clubs available to its students.

The headboy of Maun secondary, Makotoka Kahaka, is outspoken. While he also wants to see a disciplined society he says this must be "based on respect and justice and not oppression".

While his school's code is trying to put an end to vandalism, Kahaka also wants to see an end to lazy teachers with "poor teaching methods who beat us because they cannot explain".

Patrick Mbengwa, head of Motlopi secondary, admits he has heard scary stories of abuse being applied in the name of discipline. In the past, he explains, headmasters were feared in the community. They governed the school through fear, he says, and then manipulation.

"Today there is a different breed of headmasters, they consult and they are open and no longer do things behind closed doors."

However, there are those who believe the problem of student rioting is because children these days are not disciplined enough.

Most teachers still favour the stick to instil discipline. One teacher says if corporal punishment it is "applied with love" then it is not abuse.

Copyright 1999 IPS/GIN. The contents of this story can not be duplicated in any fashion without written permission of Global Information Network

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